By Zach Cavanagh

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – Getting to CIF-SS finals should be old hat for the Saddleback Valley Christian boys volleyball team, but Warriors coach Ryan Van Rensselaer said, “This has by far been the hardest year.”

The journey may have been harder, but the destination is still the same.

Saddleback Valley Christian dropped a tough first set but stormed back to control and win the next three to defeat Quartz Hill, 25-27, 25-20, 25-16, 25-15, in a CIF-SS Division 2 semifinal on Wednesday, May 16 at Saddleback Valley Christian School.

The Warriors advanced to their fifth CIF-SS title game, all in the last six seasons, and will look to win their fifth CIF-SS title in the Division 2 final against top-seeded Orange Lutheran on Saturday at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

“We have a team scripture,” Van Rensselaer said, “which is ‘there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend.’ That’s what we talk about. … Volleyball is our platform to do that right now. So that’s really the truth of our success. All these guys are the kind of guys you’d want at your back when you’re in battle.”

SVC won back-to-back Division 5 titles in 2013 and 2014 and back-to-back Division 4 titles in 2015 and 2015 before being bumped up to Division 1 last season. A younger group of Warriors was knocked off in the first round last year, but they’ve regrouped in their Division 2 run this season.

Van Rensselaer said the group had a lot of freshmen and only one club player among its upperclassmen, but over the last eight matches, SVC has gelled together in another run to the finals.

“There’s a couple of unique variables,” Van Rensselaer said, “reeling it all in and getting them unified, that’s the battle. I didn’t think we’d get this far, to be honest. I knew we were capable, but with all those pieces not coming together, I thought okay, maybe we can do this.”

SVC made it harder on themselves at the end of the first set.

The Warriors led by four, 22-18, before Quartz Hill made a comeback. Quartz Hill fought off set point to tie it at 24 and at 25. Quartz Hill hit the final three points to win the set, 27-25.

From there, SVC got back on track.

“We really wanted to go back to our fundamentals,” SVC senior Bryce Laxson said, “and focus on what we’ve been working on in practice, sealing our block and really going hard on every point.”

SVC and Quartz Hill traded points to a 10-10 tie, but the Warriors hit seven straight points to push ahead. SVC held on to win the second set, 25-20.

The third set was similarly tight, but SVC hit eight of nine points for a 20-11 lead in the eventual 25-16 win.

SVC was in control of the fourth set from the jump with a 6-0 lead. SVC led by as much as 10 and won by that margin with a 25-15 victory to close out the match.

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